In the Bulgarian history there is a legend about Khan Kubrat – one of the first leaders who tasked his five sons to break a bunch of wooden spears wrapped together with a thin rope. Each of them failed miserably even though all of them were the strongest males in the tribe. He then asked his sons to take one spear at a time and break it – each of them succeeded without even feeling the resistance of the wood. He then explained that when they stand together as a team behind and idea, they will be unbeatable, but if they divide and separate for the sake of vanity and pride – they will perish. The sons did not learn from this lesson and separated …
In the recent interview I was asked the following question: “How would you approach a situation where few members or the product development team are passionately arguing about their individual solutions to a task assigned to the team? “. Followed by – “Let’s just assume that some of them are convinced that they are always right.”
I thought about it and I answered with one sentence: “I will say to them: It’s not about you, it’s about the product!”
This is a simple example of a very typical situation in today’s world where our working, living, and breathing environments are for the most part full of egocentrics, who with absolute conviction argue that if there were no sun, the earth would revolve around them. This is also why I would like to introduce the INAY principle.
INAY or “It’s Not About You” comes into play after the No Asshole Rule (“NAR”), which in a quite extensive manner was described by prof. Robert I. Sutton in his book “The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t”. “NAR” in a nutshell tries to identify and address the individual who is quite frankly being an “asshole”, protect the workplace with the rule, and extend it as a way of life. The INAY principle intends to achieve the following:
- Expose the main goal/idea of the team, group or organization and enforce the focus and understanding of it
- Promote social and team togetherness aimed at the achievement of the overall goal
- Remind the actual individual that the sun is about to stay where it currently is for a very long time, and the earth won’t change its axis even if life of this individual depended on it
“…And more often than not, if you thought you would have to sell an idea through exercising ego or shutting people down or just being the loudest guy in the room, just your raw energy about an idea will geek them up. You don’t have to sell as hard. You don’t have to be this mega personality in the room, because it’s about the thing itself, not about you”
(Chris Metzen, Blizzard Entertainment)
Let’s focus on each of the above-mentioned statements. A group of people is usually formed around an idea, which is commonly shared among them. Teams and business organizations are established and exist in order to reach a goal based on an idea, which signifies their existence, purpose, and which gives answer to the question “why”
For example: the goal behind a business organizations is to create the best possible product or service (money is usually a side effect based on the quality of the product/service), the goal of a sports team is to win a championship etc. The INAY principle states that none of the building blocks of the above-mentioned sets is more important than the idea around which they are actually formed, which in essence explains the reason “why” they exists in the first place. In the example with the developers above it is clear that some of them have decided to put their egos above what is best for the team, and this is a clear violation of the principle. The team is established based on the goal, the goal is established based on an idea, and this idea is above everything simply because it is the main guideline and factor around which everything else gravitates. The idea of the development team is to create the best software product they can. Once the idea is clear, the goal is set, the pieces of the team must realize that all of them fit together and understand that the focus is not on them as individuals but on the “why” they are together in the first place. From this point on any egos that attempt to showcase themselves should simply be reminded that “It’s Not About You” and what needs to be done must be best for the team’s end goal.
By exposing the goal and understanding the idea behind it, the team members now have an ego-free atmosphere, which promotes better working environment and allows discussions where the final judge is what’s best for the actual product rather than an egocentric individual. The team decides what is most reasonable and what allows them to achieve their goal in the best possible manner.
Perfect example here would be one of the most famous game development companies in the world – Blizzard Entertainment. Through their entire history the company has always followed somewhat of an interpretation of the INAY rule where no individual, no matter how talented or great he can be, can influence a game unless the whole team agrees that his idea fits perfectly and it betters the game.
Chris Metzen (Vice president of Creative Development at Blizzard Entertainment) said in one of his interviews: “If we’re talking about a new zone or a new kingdom or a new race, and my cells are aflame with anticipation, and I just can’t wait to get the idea out, and my partners are flinging ideas back: “Wow! Have you considered this?” or “Whoa, dude! What you’re describing is straight-up Klingon. Why would we wanna do that?” or whatever it is — everyone’s poking holes in things — you’ve got to try and keep it together, take a step back, try not to let the ego engage. Because that’s what we are as artists, right? We’re called upon to have passionate opinions and fling ideas out, and go, go, go!…” The INAY principle would be the one dictating that the egos should not be “engaged” and that it reminds consistently the individual with (or without) control, that there is something above the ego, which is “bulletproof”, which is based on an idea to unite rather then divide, and the mission of which is to create positive, valuable, and quantifiable results. As one of the famous Africans proverbs says “It takes a village to raise a child” in Blizzard It takes a village to build a game.
“I don’t know if I’d agree with it in terms of raising a kid, but I can tell you in terms of raising a video game, it does take a village. And maybe specifically it takes the right village.” (Chris Metzen, Blizzard Entertainment)
The results achieved by them speak for themselves. Each one of their games that went gold has changed forever the genre and has instantly become a classic.
Egocentrism definition states: “Excessive pride in one’s appearance or accomplishments”. I do believe that pride is absolutely essential and that any individual should do something that they take great pride of, and the results of which represent who they are and their efforts. However, one step further is the “excessive pride” and that crosses the thin line just like the thin line between love and hate, genius and insanity. Before that thin line is passed, the INAY principle should be used to remind again that the individual is part of an idea, which “governs” the rules, which explains the “why”, which exists for a common good, and comprehension and execution of which must be considered to be of the highest priority.
Simon Sinek is an author created a big buzz with his book called “Start With Why” and his speech “How great leaders inspire action” in which he states that “great leaders and organizations communicate starting with WHY” and that “people buy not WHAT you do but WHY you do it”. Arguments supported quite well by Simon (with many examples of human biology, Apple computer and other companies) and which reinforce the INAY principle, because behind the “why” is the idea, the goal, the team, the business organization, behind “what” is everything else. If every team member passionately shares their understanding of the “why” and suppresses their ego, than there is no limit of what they can achieve as a team, business or social organization.
… Few years after the Bulgarian leader who managed to unite all Bulgar tribes and create what is now known as the Old Great Bulgaria (or the First Bulgarian Empire) passed away; the sons’ egos divided the tribes and separated the empire into much weaker fractions, which lead to their demise. Till this day no one knows what would have happened if the five sons remained together (as their father advised) as the leaders of the empire. Till this day the Bulgarian coat of arms states “Unity renders power”.
“It’s Not About You, It’s About the Idea”